'Not Getting Involved' by TarikB via Flickr

Apologies for the brief blogging hiatus. We took last week off from class to make room for a series of fantastic webinars produced and presented by my classmates. I’ll talk about those in my next post, but first I’ve got a few more thoughts on Twitter, the topic of our most recent class.

I’ve already written about how I use Twitter as a preprofessional, so I wanted to take a look at the use of Twitter by libraries as institutions. Social media is becoming increasingly important for all kinds of institutions — in fact, Michigan just hired its first full-time university-wide director of social media — and I’m seeing more and more books and articles offering advice for libraries using social media to connect with their communities.

It’s fairly straightforward to set up institutional social media accounts and start pushing out content. But what happens after that? How do you measure or discern any effect or enlarged connection to your patrons?

Part of what got me thinking about this is a survey I took at the beginning of last semester for the university as it set out to gauge feelings on campus about social media use. One question asked whether I followed or was friends with any institutions whose pages I did not regularly comment on or interact with.

Well, sure — all of them, from libraries to co-ops to favorite restaurants. Aside from the occasional “like” I provide, there would be no way for those institutions to measure my level of engagement or needs (met or unmet) from our interaction in social media.

(See also: A useful study published in the Magazine of Digital Library Research that found that 82 percent of participation on academic library Facebook pages — via comments or “likes” — came from library employees, campus employees, and alumni.)

This question of non-engaged engagement is one I hadn’t previously answered for myself, but I wrote on the survey about how those social media connections were still intentional because I liked seeing news from my favorite places pop up in my various media feeds the same way I might keep up with an old friend I still cared about but didn’t get to see regularly. The fact that those libraries, in particular, are sharing news via social media channels also tells me that they’ve got news to share — they’re proud of new programs, exhibits, and initiatives, which makes me interested to learn more.

That’s not to say that libraries couldn’t try more targeted approaches — I for one would love to see an academic library set up and cultivate an online forum for graduate student instructors to talk, get ideas for lesson plans, and trade ideas with librarians for research and writing support.

But I also think that measuring social media’s impact in institutions like libraries can be more complex than initial impressions or metrics can convey.

I’m curious what you think, though. As a user, what do you experience or expect from libraries who keep a social media presence? How would a library measure your engagement if it’s not immediately clear?